Press Releases

    GA/SPD/248
    30 October 2002

    UNDER-SECRETARY-GENERAL DESCRIBES TRANSFORMED
    PUBLIC INFORMATION DEPARTMENT WITH RENEWED FOCUS,
    CLARITY OF PURPOSE IN STATEMENT TO FOURTH COMMITTEE

    NEW YORK, 29 October (UN Headquarters) -- The United Nations cannot fulfil its goals without communicating effectively to the world’s peoples, and that was the principal responsibility of a transformed Department of Public Information -- one with renewed focus and clarity of purpose, the Department’s head, Shashi Tharoor, told the Fourth Committee this afternoon.

    Updating delegates on the "ongoing and fundamental reorientation of the Department’s focus and structure", Under-Secretary-General Tharoor said his aim during the comprehensive review had been greater efficiency and effectiveness, while recognizing that in an era of budgetary constraint new priorities would not be matched by additional resources. Noting that considerable progress had been made and more was under way, he added that the Department must demonstrate its ability to adapt to a changing world and willingness to learn and change, as well as make an honest effort at using its resources for the maximum possible impact.

    As part of the reform effort, he continued, the Secretary-General had decided to establish a new operating model for the Department, as well as a new operating concept for the United Nations information centres. The new operating model, which will be put into effect this Thursday, recognizes that content generation emanates from other departments and agencies, while content coordination, refinement, presentation and distribution are the Department’s responsibility. The Secretary-General had also proposed a thorough impact assessment for each of the Department’s major product and service lines, as well as changes in the delivery of Library services and in the Secretariat’s publication programme.

    A key element in the DPI reform proposals, the creation of regional information "hubs", would require the approval of Member States, he added. As a first step, the Secretary-General had proposed to consolidate the information centres located in western Europe into a regional hub, releasing resources for a strong, efficient information office and for redeployment to activities of high priority, in particular strengthening the United Nations information presence in developing countries. The form that consolidation and strengthening of information centres would take in other regions would be considered on a case-by-case basis once a decision to approve the principle of regional hubs had been taken by the General Assembly. A key guiding principle in implementing the concept would be that the overall information capacity in Africa, Asia and Latin America would be enhanced, and that offices and outreach in the Middle East would be particularly strengthened.

    Describing activities and highlights of the past year, Mr. Tharoor said the United Nations Web site continued to grow in popularity worldwide. The site was currently receiving some 6.5 million "hits" a day from 172 countries, had been accessed some 1.1 billion times in 2001 and would receive an estimated 1.6 billion hits in 2002. The News Centre -- one of the most popular sites on the United Nations Web site -- would soon be available in all six official languages, thus contributing in a major way to providing current information about the Organization in all official languages. The creation of a new and separate Internet Service, to complement the Press Service and Radio and Television Service, would strengthen the management and development capacity of the site.

    He said the Department had played a major role in the recent World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. The Summit, the largest and most complex conference ever held by the United Nations, had attracted an unprecedented number of journalists from every continent. While the phrase "sustainable development" was one that made most journalists’ eyes glaze over, the Summit placed those two words on the covers and front pages of some of the world’s leading publications. The extraordinary volume of news coverage -- the vast majority positive -- and the praise the Department received for its professionalism and logistical assistance, indicated that the Department had successfully met its goals.

    He also outlined the Department’s particular focus on Africa, expansion of the character of the United Nations Chronicle, now being printed in all six official languages, reduction of the lag time between year covered and publication of the United Nations Yearbook and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library’s continued effective service in an environment of resource constraints.

    During the discussion that followed, speakers agreed on the importance of the Department of Public Information’s efforts to improve its ability to adapt to changing realities. While commending the Department for its use of new information technologies, speakers also stressed the need for the DPI to maintain traditional means of communications and to achieve the goal of language parity, particularly regarding the widely popular United Nations Web site. Speakers also emphasized the primacy of the Department’s role in bridging the information technology gap.

    The representative of Costa Rica, speaking on behalf of the Rio Group, said the Secretary-General had not presented concrete proposals or referred to the Committee on Information’s recommendation on language parity on the United Nations Web site. The Secretary-General’s reform proposals did not adequately take into account the observations of the Committee on Information, which was the political authority for establishing guidelines for the services provided by the Secretariat. In that regard, there was a need to establish the duties of the Secretariat and the Committee.

    Egypt’s representative emphasized the need to revert to the Committee on Information before addressing the results of the Department’s comprehensive review. The achievement of linguistic parity in all six official languages on the United Nations Web site was a foremost recommendation of that Committee, as was the maintenance of the live radio broadcasting and the restoration of the financial and human resources for United Nations information centres. The restructuring of the Department should in no way affect existing General Assembly mandates.

    The representative of Venezuela, speaking on behalf of the "Group of 77" developing countries and China, said that the restructuring of the DPI must be done with the active participation of Member States. The priorities, mandates and activities established by the General Assembly should be maintained. He urged the DPI to improve its activities to bridge the gap between developing and developed countries. Traditional means of communications, in particular radio, were still the most used and available medium for millions of listeners across the globe, especially in developing countries. The Group was concerned, he said, that the Secretary-General’s report had not mentioned the strengthening of traditional means of communications.

    Also speaking this afternoon were the representatives of Yemen, Belarus, Japan, Cuba, Algeria, Israel, Brazil, Republic of Korea, Thailand (on behalf of the Association of South-East Asian Nations), United Republic of Tanzania and Nigeria.

    The Rapporteur of the Committee on Information, Walid Haggag (Egypt), introduced that body’s report.

    The Fourth Committee will meet again at 3 p.m. tomorrow, 30 October, to continue its discussion of questions relating to information.

    Background

    The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) met this afternoon to begin its annual consideration of United Nations information issues. Before it was the Secretary-General's report on questions relating to information (document A/57/157), which covers recent activities of the Department of Public Information (DPI) and its implementation of recommendations contained in General Assembly resolution 56/64 B of 24 December 2001.

    The report says that the Assembly, in its resolution 56/253 of 24 December 2001, requested the Secretary-General to conduct a comprehensive review of the management and operations of the Department. The review would address the Department's overall effectiveness and efficiency; the focusing of its work to better reflect the Organization's priorities and mandates; the need for greater coordination within the Secretariat on public information activities; and the work and funding of the United Nations information centres. Specific proposals for the Department's reform will be included in a forthcoming report of the Secretary-General on the comprehensive review.

    The report says that the DPI has been mindful of its mandate to create an informed understanding of the Organization's work and purposes. Using the Millennium Declaration as a guide, the Department is focusing on several major issues, including the eradication of poverty, conflict prevention, sustainable development, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the battle against international terrorism and the needs of the African continent. The DPI is working with agencies and programmes of the United Nations system to advance the Millennium Development Goals through a joint communications strategy.

    The Department has also worked to project the Secretary-General's voice on key international issues and to convey the message that the United Nations is an indispensable Organization to the peoples of the world, the report explains. Following the 11 September terrorist attacks, The DPI moved quickly to inform the public of the Organization's response, creating a special Web page in all official languages on United Nations actions to address the issue of terrorism.

    While maintaining its traditional means of dissemination, the Department has further extended its use of new information technologies to deliver news and information to audiences around the world, the report says. The United Nations News Service has established itself on the Internet as a gateway to up-to-date United Nations news and information. The Internet site is backed by a parallel e-mail service that brings news directly to the desks of redisseminators. In the first two months of operation, the service secured over 2,000 subscribers. The initiative is an integral part of the Department's efforts to improve media access in developing countries to news and information sources from the United Nations.

    The Department is also meeting the special needs of the developing countries through outreach activities of the United Nations information centres, Headquarters training programmes for media practitioners from those countries, as well as information strategies for the current cycle of conferences and special sessions of the Assembly on economic and social issues. Widespread use of traditional media, such as radio and print, also takes into consideration the needs of audiences on the other side of the digital divide.

    The report says that the Department, mindful of the importance placed on the multilingual character of its work, has a number of information products and services available in the six official languages, such as daily live radio programmes, the United Nations Chronicle and the United Nations News Centre.

    To enhance the ability of the United Nations system to speak with one voice, the Department has taken a leading role in developing the United Nations Communications Group into a more flexible, pragmatic and task-oriented mechanism for inter-agency coordination on public information and communications. The DPI provides the secretariat for the Group, which officially replaced the Joint United Nations Information Committee in January 2002.

    According to the report, the United Nations Web site receives, on average, close to 5 million visits daily from people in more than 156 countries. The visitors view over 500,000 pages of material daily. In 2001, the Web site was accessed over 1.1 billion times, an increase of some 488 million over the previous year. A new interdepartmental Working Group on Internet Matters, chaired by the DPI, has helped to increase departmental cooperation in the area. The Department's Information Technology Section, renamed the United Nations Web Site Section, has been moved to the Department's News and Media Division as of June 2002 to take advantage of increased synergies with radio, television and print media.

    The report says that since early 2002, many parliamentary documents in the six official languages have been directly linked to the new Official Document System (ODS), eliminating the need for copying them from the ODS and posting them again on the Web site. The Department continues to build its in-house capability for live webcasting. Using "The UN Works" concept, the Department is currently developing a Web site to promote awareness and understanding of the Millennium Development Goals.

    The report says that the Department's live radio project has continued to reach large audiences worldwide with a daily 15-minute current affairs newsmagazine. For the 2002-2003 biennium, additional resources totalling some $2.37 million were appropriated for the project. Whenever possible, other resources within the Department are used to augment the project's production capacity. In view of the Department's budgetary situation, however, there is no scope within its current budget for the absorption of the cost of the live radio project. While the Department explored the possibility of raising extrabudgetary resources, it has not yet received a positive response. To continue the project beyond the current biennium, regular budget funding will be needed. The Department plans to include funding proposals in its 2004-2005 programme budget submission.

    The United Nations News Centre portal, which features enhanced search and navigation tools and database-driven functions, has been redesigned, the report continues. It has been further upgraded with the launch of the French-language version and work is under way to develop similar News Centre sites in other official languages.

    The report also describes the Department's other activities during the past year, including outreach to non-governmental organizations, public services, thematic information programmes, the United Nations information centres and publishing activities.

    The United Nations information centres, the report says, serve as the local focal point for strategic advocacy on behalf of the United Nations system. In the past year, 77 United Nations information centres, services and offices have intensified their efforts to communicate the Organization's global messages and to demonstrate the Organization's relevance to people everywhere. They have focused their work, in particular, on local and regional issues, delivering their messages in local languages whenever appropriate.

    Also before the Committee was the report of the Committee on Information (document A/57/21) covering its twenty-fourth session from 22 April to 2 May. The Committee considered, among others, the report of the Secretary-General on the reorientation of United Nations activities in the field of public information and communication (document A/AC.198/2002/2) of 25 March 2002.

    During the Information Committee's general debate, speakers pointed to the critical role of information in development and the achievement of social justice, the report says. A number of delegates spoke of the bitter contradiction inherent in the fact that astounding advances in information and communication technologies were serving to deepen the digital divide between the developed and developing countries. Many delegates emphasized the continuing importance of the establishment of a new world information and communications order based on the free and balanced flow of information.

    According to the report, many speakers noted the essential role of the Department of Public Information in bridging the digital divide. They stressed the urgent need to harness information technology for the equal benefit of all people everywhere, in keeping with the Millennium Development Goals. Technology, they said, was especially important for Africa.

    The report says that delegations strongly supported the Secretary-General's commitment to enhanced communications as a key element in the reform of the United Nations in a new information age and to developing a culture of communications within the Organization. Speakers agreed that the Department of Public Information was the "voice" of the United Nations and that its principal goal was to raise the level of popular awareness of the Organization's aims and to build broad-based support for its work.

    The report says that some delegations cautioned that budgetary considerations alone should not determine the provision of long-established activities and services to Member States. The Committee must first examine the Secretary-General's comprehensive review of the Department before decisions were taken in other forums. All delegations supported the strengthening of the Department, saying that the reorientation of the Department should be characterized as a work in progress. A number of delegations supported the Department's new focus on performance management, programme effectiveness and efficiency.

    According to the report, delegates strongly supported the Department's embrace of new technology. They commended the Department for enhancing the United Nations Web site, which they saw as a major communications tool to extend the direct reach of the United Nations around the world. However, many speakers said that more needs to be done to improve the multilingual character of the Web site and to achieve the goal of parity among all six official languages.

    The report says many delegates emphasized their concern that the use of new technologies should not be at the cost of traditional means of communication, which were still the main source of information in most developing countries. A number of speakers pointed to the importance of radio, especially in Africa, as a cost-effective and far-reaching means of outreach and expressed strong support for the live radio project.

    The report says that many delegates strongly supported the Department's alignment with the Millennium Declaration and the major issues emphasized by the Secretary-General, namely poverty eradication, conflict prevention, sustainable development, the environment, human rights, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the battle against terrorism and the needs of the African continent.

    The report also says that many delegations supported the Department's role in the global fight against terrorism. Several speakers hailed the creation of the multilingual "UN action against terrorism" page on the Web site. Speakers also pointed to the importance of the work of the information centres, which they saw as "United Nations windows on the world", especially in developing countries.

    The officers of the Committee on Information for the 2001-2002 period are Milos Alcalay (Venezuela), Chairman; Ivan Matchavariani (Georgia), Tserenpil Dorjsuren (Mongolia) and Peter Mollema (Netherlands), Vice-Chairmen; and Walid A. Haggag (Egypt), Rapporteur.

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